I decided to make this a personal essay and not a book review because so much of my recent history has been told in The Closing of the Liberal Mind. In 1990 I was the editor of the Crisis magazine, the official publication of the National NAACP. I was also dating a woman who, as it turned out, was the Chair of the American Studies Department at SUNY/Old Westbury.
One evening, as we sat upright together in her bed, she white, me black, both as naked as jaybirds, she turned to me and said, “You would do just fine.”
Hmmm. What did that mean?
What it meant was that she wanted me to teach in her department. I was later to learn the main reason why she was so eager to have me. Her college was an Affirmative Action school set up by the State University of New York (SUNY) system. The State University of New York was established in 1948 by Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
The system was greatly expanded during the administration of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. This was also the fable 60s, an age of black protest of not being allowed to participate in all the economic opportunities our country was offering—to everyone but them.
Governor Rockefeller came under great political pressure to make sure that blacks were included in his grand plan to vastly expand SUNY (The plan was a smashing success, by the way. SUNY is still the largest state-run university system in the country. And, they have accomplished this without a football or basketball team anywhere in the system of any note.)
The result was SUNY/Old Westbury, which was supposed to be one third black, one third Hispanic and one third white; that was meant solely for students only, not faculty.
There had never been a black male professor in my former girlfriend’s department, even though the President of the college was a black woman at the time, and she was chair of the American Studies Department. I was to learn that the black students on campus had had enough and demanded that the college hire a black man.
So, good luck was lurking everywhere for the fortunate chair. I had just fell into her naked lap.
And what a great catch I was! Not only because I was in charge of one of the oldest national magazines in American history, the Crisis, which was started in 1910 by W.E.B. DuBois, but, I had also taught journalism for many years at USC, UC Berkeley and in my old journalism department at NYU.
I did not have an advance degree, but, what I did have, and what made me so valuable, was that I was one of the few blacks in the entire country that was both an Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, and, because I introduced the first magazine publishing course on the entire west coast at USC in 1975.
But, things turned out badly for me at SUNY/Old Westbury. Much of the things that Kim Holmes write about in his interesting, often ponderous book, The Closing of the Liberal Mind, started staring me dead in the face. The grand climax came when Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
A camera crew from Long Island’s Channel 12 came to interview some of the faculty in the American Studies Department. To a person everyone said in the camera, with much anger, that because of this political disaster, the sky was falling and America was now doomed forever.
I was the last to be interviewed. I laughed out loud at my colleagues, pointing out that we have long had bad judges on the Court, and we are still here. And, who knows, Justice Thomas just might make a great judge. Also, I was acutely aware of the fact that he was also a true black and not mixed race like Justice Thurgood Marshall whom he was replacing. Dark skin blacks rarely get the call, even today.
My colleagues went ballistic! And one, Professor Goldstein, even looked like he was ready to punch me in the nose.
So, doing what folks like them do, they soon informed me that unless I got an advance degree, they could not give me tenure. What pissed me off more than anything else was the fact they all said that they told me from the beginning that that was the condition for my being here.
What a lie. Vanity was now in play. I am well known for my photographic memory. How dare them! How could I forget something like that? In fact, I thought that they were so glad to hire me in the first place, to get the black students off their back, that I doubt if they even checked to see if I really had a BA.
I was later to encounter the same group a few years later. The truth was that I was glad to leave the college. I did not put up a fight. I even agreed to be in charge of finding my replacement, although all of us knew that they already had the person to replace me.
This may make me sound like an intellectual snob, but after USC and UC Berkeley, this school was to me just a glorified high school, so let them have it. Also, I had just turned 50, and I had asked myself, where were the books you were supposed to write? To be honest, I was ashamed of myself, despite the comfortable lifestyle.
I had started my first novel, The Womanizer, and saw that I had the chops. The awakening came to me in a class I was teaching. This was one of my favorite classes, Writing for Publication. I had just added a creative writing segment to the course.
One of the students, a bright, returning older white woman, asked me a simple question: “How can you tell us what to write about?”
I answered quickly, not given it much thought: what else could it be? “Write what you want to write. It’s as simple as that.”
That was the eureka moment I had long craved for. All the Political Correctness that was descending on campuses like SUNY/Old Westbury was killing the very notion of creativity. “Throw that crap out the window,” I told her (and myself).
That moment in that small classroom has led to 11 books and counting.
But, those pesky Liberals that Holmes writes about in The Closing of the Liberal Mind, still stood in my way. When I finally finished my novel I shopped it around and discovered a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. Hillary was right, she just fingered the wrong guys.
Liberals went, what the fuck is this! We can’t publish something like this! Who are these people! One even said to my face that “‘we’ will never allow you to be published in America with stuff like this.” What bothered them most was that as a black writer, my subject matter should always be confined to my blackness, and all the harm white Christians have done to me.
And, you are certainly not supposed to be frolicking with them. This they did not like at all. So, The Womanizer was first published in Canada in 1997. I started my own book company with my brother Rob Morton, Morton Books, Inc, in 1999, and it was finally published in American in 2000.
I wrote in The Rejected American, a book of essays published a year later as a warning to America, that “black male writers are easy targets, with a weak bench—low hanging fruit, if you will. The rest of America should not rest easy just because a few black male writers and thinkers are being silenced. After us, who’s next.”
I think Kim Holmes’, The Closing of the Liberal Mind, answered that question. It is now all of us.
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